Note: this post originally appeared on PieSync's Blog.
If you’re not tech savvy, deciding what technology you really need for your business can be a troublesome task. It can be hard to sift through advertising and think pieces to decide if any individual piece of software will increase your sales, or slowly drain your wallet this year.
As a marketer at a small software business (who in turn serves our small business customer-base), a big part of my job involves selecting and advising on tech. Although every small business is different, there are a few essential pieces of tech everyone needs, no matter what industry you’re in or how many employees you have. Everything I mention in this post will not only help your business grow, but grow with your business — because you want to set yourself up for future success when you pick a piece of software, not just a temporary sales increase. Plus, at the end, we’ll cover some basic criteria to keep in mind when selecting software.
A domain name
A domain name is the address you use to access a website (like www.PieSync.com). You are going to need a domain name for your small business’ website so that leads and customers can easily access your content (we’ll get to what that will be in a bit).
If your business name is available, it would make an ideal domain name. For example, if your company name is Zasso’s Bakery, you’ll want to purchase www.zassosbakery.com. Since .com is a very popular top-level domain, you may need to get creative in order to find a good, available domain name.
You may also want to purchase multiple domain names. If you can’t decide on a domain name that you like best, or you already have a domain name but your foresee expanding your company in the future, you may want to purchase several (they’re usually pretty cheap). If you ever decide to change domain names (or start a second site), you’ll have what you need.
Note: Having a domain name doesn’t mean that you have a website. Companies will frequently sell domain names and website hosting together, but you can purchase just the domain name on its own. That means that even if you don’t have time to make a website right now, you can still purchase a domain name.
Building a website can be really intimidating, but you don’t need to hire a developer or pay up the wazoo for a decent website. You can use a website service like SquareSpace or Wix to host and create your website (or, use WordPress to create and manage your website and host with one of their recommended providers).
Eventually, you’ll probably want to start blogging and sharing content, but at this point, it’s ok if your website is a single page with relevant info, and some lead capture forms that we’ll talk about more below. If you use a website service, you can even choose from pre-made templates so that your website looks good and ready to go in minutes.
You might be wondering if a social media page is a replacement for a website. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one; if your entire online presence is on social media, you’ve effectively surrendered control of your brand to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At any time, these platforms could decide to change their algorithms, start charging you for your page, or remove your account without notice.
A place to store contact data
Now, I’ve already warned against social media a bit, and I’m going to again: social media cannot be the only way you reach your audience. Social platforms can make changes that hurt your ability to talk to your customers and leads, so if you want to guarantee continued contact and build relationships with your followers, you need to collect emails and phone numbers, not just handles.
You can start collecting contact info in a spreadsheet, but you might want to consider a CRM (that’s short for contact relationship manager) for storing all of your contact data in one place, including notes, emails, documents, sales, follow up reminders, and your calendar. Plus, you can integrate your CRM with a contact form on your website to capture new leads. The more data you have in one place, the more powerful and helpful any individual piece of software will be.
An email marketing platform
Sometimes, established businesses don’t collect email addresses on their website. Don’t be like these businesses! Every company should have an email capture, even if they don’t have a plan for those emails yet. Email remains the best marketing channel (let this post count the ways) for your small business, and you can even start doing it for free (check out MailChimp’s free tier).
What’s more: aside from using an email capture on your website, you can integrate your email marketing and CRM data. Using your CRM and marketing data combined, you can easily segment your contacts to send more targeted emails, see who is receiving which emails aside your other CRM activity, and track which campaigns produce the most sales.
Aside from this list, there are a few criteria every small business should keep in mind while selecting software:
- Make sure that you completely own your data. Sometimes, the makers of free software will sell your data if you use them. Or, even if you are paying for a program, if they don’t give you the ability to easily export or extract your data, they will essentially hold your info hostage if you try to leave. Be sure to read the fine print and inquire about transitioning out of a system before you sign any contracts.
- Take note of security practices (particularly if you have industry requirements). Be sure to ask for security documentation and see if it’s readily available — or if the sales or customer service person you’re talking to seems clueless on the topic. You should also follow password-keeping best practices on your end (don’t share your passwords with anyone, use a new password for every website, and use a secure password keeper).
- Test the customer service. Are they reachable? Are they actually helpful? Do you enjoy working with them? Good customer service is a key component of business software. If you can’t work with the support team, you’ll have a hard time getting help (or canceling your service) down the line.